Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A Feast of Hope


Today is the Christian Festival of 'The Transfiguration of our Lord'.

As every Harry Potter fan knows, 'transfiguration' simply means a change of appearance or form. The transfiguration of Jesus we read about in the gospels is not magic, it is miracle - by which I mean something only God can do. This particular miracle is also revelation, an epiphany. Although we cannot see God, God is revealed in many ways - for Christians God's revelation is supremely in Jesus Christ.

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 17: 1 - 9Mark 9: 2 - 10 and Luke 9: 28 - 36. It is also recollected in 2 Peter 1: 16 - 18.

The event of the Transfiguration is a glimpse of glory, a window into something so wonderful it can only leave us silent. After the event Peter, John and James
"kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen". Luke 9: 36 NRSV
They must have felt completely out of their depth when the appearance of Jesus' face changed, his clothes appeared dazzling white and the great prophets Moses and Elijah appeared speaking with Jesus. Such things are beyond normal. I like the way Liz writes about this in Transfiguration Blues:

"...We don’t do well with the unexplainable. 
We’d rather be able to cram everything into boxes, 
labelled and categorised, neatly packaged.  
We’re discombobulated by events that refuse to fit 
into our systems and theories..."

She goes on to reflect on how the disciples' reaction is to

"...want everything pegged down: 
tents for the prophets, 
something to do, 
anything, 
to keep them from feeling 
so out of their depth 
at Jesus throwing them 
yet another curve ball, 
catching them off balance 
with dazzling appearances 
and voices from heaven,  
too preoccupied with the desire 
to “normalise” this event..."

But you can't normalise something that is beyond normal, something or someone whose brightness dazzles us and before which or whom we can only bow in awe and allow ourselves to be transformed by the glorious but inexplicable experience.

The Feast of the Transfiguration is described today by 'digitalnun' as
"...a feast of hope, of light and peace in a dark and deeply troubled world."
I agree with that. It is a feast of hope because of who Jesus is, the 'light of the world', the One in whose face the glory of God is revealed. Well, that all sounds wonderful, but how can remembering a long ago supernatural event provide any hope for our deeply troubled world? There's a danger isn't there of retreating into being 'so heavenly minded' as to be 'of no earthly use'? Yes. But not if we take notice of the voice that was heard from the cloud on the mount of transfiguration,
"This is my son, my chosen; listen to him!"
If we really listen to Jesus, then among the things we will hear are words like,
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God"
"Do good to whose who hate you."
"Love your enemies."
Such things bring hope, light and peace.

3 comments:

  1. I was wondering how, in your tradition, that Transfiguration Sunday in in the what we refer to as the season of Sundays after Pentecost? In our Lutheran tradition, we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday as the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. As you mention in your post above, it was an epiphany experience, hence it makes sense that it is celebrated during the Epiphany season.

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    1. I agree that the Transfiguration is an example of an epiphany. In the Church of England the Feast of the Transfiguration is on 6 August every year - which most years will not be a Sunday. The readings and collect for the 'Sunday Next before Lent' make it effectively a Transfiguration Sunday. I understand that the thinking behind this is to do with the fact that in the synoptic gospels the transfiguration accounts act as a pivot between Jesus' ministry in Galilee and his going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die. So on that Sunday before Lent in the words of the Collect we consider Jesus' "revelation in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross" and pray for "grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness.." So, contemplating the Transfiguration is meant to help strengthen us ready for Lent. (P.S. we only have 4 Sundays of Epiphany before a series of Sundays (up to 5) called the Sundays before Lent. Hope that makes sense to you 'Eclecticity'. Thanks for commenting - you made me stop and think.

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  2. Thanks for your explanation, in our tradition, the Sundays of Epiphany vary (from 4 to 9 Sundays), depending on the dating of Easter and the length of the season of the Sundays after Pentecost. I do agree with you that it was a moment of transition for Jesus, as his public ministry was winding down, and he began his journey to Jerusalem and the cross, however as I said above, I do think the festival is more appropriate during the season of Epiphany. Thanks again.

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